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Medieval Medical Experiments

[ 46 ] April 20, 2013 |

Learning about the oldest existing dead body used for medical experiments does not make me feel any less queasy about medieval Europe, but it is most certainly quite interesting. I’m not going to put the image up though. It’s kind of disturbing.

But radiocarbon dating put the specimen firmly in the 1200s, making it the oldest European anatomical preparation known. Most surprisingly, Charlier said, the veins and arteries are filled with a mixture of beeswax, lime and cinnabar mercury. This would have helped preserve the body as well as give the circulatory system some color, as cinnabar mercury has a red tint.

Thus, the man’s body was not simply dissected and tossed away; it was preserved, possibly for continued medical education, Charlier said. The man’s identity, however, is forever lost. He could have been a prisoner, an institutionalized person, or perhaps a pauper whose body was never claimed, the researchers write this month in the journal Archives of Medical Science.

The specimen, which is in private hands, is set to go on display at the Parisian Museum of the History of Medicine, Charlier said.

It’s kind of creepy to buy something like that. Do you display it in the front room for visitors? Use it to frighten children?

Ornette Coleman’s White House Band

[ 40 ] April 20, 2013 |

Ornette Coleman’s 1980 attempt to put together an all-white cover band of his own songs in order to create an audience for his music, since white people were more willing to listen to white musicians than black musicians is interesting, odd, and a little sad.

“Why have form follow function when you can have form follow acid trip and no function at all?”

[ 98 ] April 20, 2013 |

This is great for anyone who rolls their eyes at celebrity architects and the absurd non-functioning buildings they construct.

Celebrated Spanish Architect Santiago Calatrava (whose WTC PATH station is interminably under-construction and insanely over-budget), has now been asked by a Spanish winery to fix a leaky roof, after his Ysios winery, with its miraculous undulating roof, has failed to keep out rain.

The owner of the winery is so fed up with trying to patch the roof, it wants money from the original architect to pay for hiring someone to build a new roof. This demand comes after another one of Calatrava’s buildings, the Palau de Les Art in Valencia, has had its ceramic outer skin begin to slowly wrinkle and “its tiles have started to shake loose.” The city also wants some of its money back.

Calatrava said that “his honour was wounded” by these requests. Other projects have also shown signs of structural failure — a bridge in Bilbao is known as the “wipe-out” bridge as people have slipped and fallen on it. Authorities in Bilbabo now have “to spend up to €6,000 a year replacing broken tiles.” Cities are constantly complaining to Calatrava about the budget of his projects, which often run double their anticipated price and cannot be altered by anyone but Calatrava.

The post title comes from a comment in the link.

Can We Also Desecrate the Grave of Warren Burger?

[ 64 ] April 19, 2013 |

Minnesota Republicans are up in arms because the Minnesota Historical Society wants to commission a bust of Harry Blackmun. Why are they going crazy? Because Blackmun was one of the justices who legalized abortion in 1973.

Zoning and Nuisance Industries

[ 64 ] April 18, 2013 |

One of the fundamental questions about the West, Texas fertilizer plant explosion is why a fertilizer plant was located right in a town, with a nursing home, middle school, and homes close enough to be destroyed if the plant blew up. Fertilizer plants are a ticking time bomb. We don’t know too much yet about the history of the plant, though we do know that it filed a document with the EPA saying it presented no risk for fire or explosion. Given the lack of regulatory capability in the modern American government (with current staffing, it would take OSHA inspectors 129 years to inspect every worksite in America), we have decided to trust corporations to self-regulate. Last night is an example of why that is a very bad idea and why we need a much more activist government with regular inspections of all workplaces and significant fines for violations.

Part of the problem here is the history of American land use and the lack of state control over development. Texas is especially bad on this point, since several cities, including Houston, have no zoning at all. But there is a history, albeit relatively limited, of cities declaring industries as nuisances and banishing them outside of town. Between 1692 and 1708, several Massachusetts towns, including Boston, Salem, and Charlestown, banished so-called “nuisance trades” outside of town. These were mostly slaughterhouses and tanneries.

But outside of New England, there was never much tradition of separating people from industry no matter how bad the health risk. The meatpacking district of Gilded Age Chicago might be the most notorious, but there are any number of examples. The rise of zoning in the 20th century helped alleviate some of these problems. By creating industrial districts, it served to protect Americans from the health hazards of manufacturing. But industrial zoning was largely a municipal rather than federal or state project, meaning that corporations had a tremendous amount of influence on the process. Zoning is not a perfect solution, largely because its local control means that racial prejudice can easily be replicated onto the landscape, but for the purpose of keeping Americans safe from hazards, it’s the best tool we have.

As commenters have pointed out, the fertilizer plant in West is hardly the only example we have of poorly sited industrial projects that threaten large numbers of people. But in examining this tragedy, we have to ask what we could have done to mitigate it. One question revolves around how the fire started and turned into an explosion. That’s under investigation, but when you are dealing with fertilizer there are very real risks. A vigorous regulatory program and strong unions would help a lot, but neither would completely eliminate risks in a nuisance industry like fertilizer. So given the inherent dangers of nuisance industries, why are they located near cities? The answer of course is corporate control over American life.

The move of meatpacking out of Chicago and into the rural Midwest was in part a union-busting move, and in fact meatpackers treat their largely immigrant labor forces terribly, but it actually does make sense to site meatpacking plants in southwestern Kansas, where they will harm fewer people. The same is true of fertilizer production. The government needs to play a more active role in deciding where dangerous and nuisance industries will be located. I am a historian and not a journalist, so I don’t have the time to investigate the specific history of the factory in West. But it doesn’t really matter for the broader point. If factories preexist neighborhoods, zoning needs to keep residents out. If neighborhoods preexist factories, zoning needs to move factories to more isolated places. After all, it’s not like you couldn’t build that factory 10 miles west of West and have it in a much less populated and safer place, basically the scrub country where George W. Bush used to show off his brush-cutting skills in order to score cheap political points.

Let me close by quoting Bill Minutaglio from the Texas Observer:

Because I wrote a book about The Texas City Disaster, my phone began ringing last night with reporters asking about parallels between West and Texas City. A public radio producer who said he wasn’t from Texas wanted to know if it was common to have industrial facilities, like the ones in West, close to residential areas, to schools, to a nursing home. He wanted to know if that kind of thing was “grandfathered” in.

I told him it was complex, and we talked about an inherited political and economic ethos in Texas. That the anti-oversight credo runs deep. It’s in the state’s bedrock. And that, over time, the results are painfully predictable: There will be another explosion (there have been others, more recent ones, in Texas City). There will be more loss of life. And the same questions will emerge—and probably dissipate: What could have been done? Was there enough oversight?

Of course there wasn’t enough oversight. But it’s a cultural problem. We believe capitalists look out for everyone’s interests and that as a society we should cater to the needs of the rich. When we do that, people pay with their lives.

….Here’s an aerial map of West, showing the fertilizer plant’s proximity to the rest of town.

Rheeism in One Quote

[ 161 ] April 18, 2013 |

Like most elite supporters of destroying public eduction unions and handing the future of education over to capitalists and flawed testing systems that make or break people’s careers, Michelle Rhee is a total hypocrite when it comes to her own kids.

In the interview, Rhee also confirmed that one of her two daughters attends a private school in Tennessee, where the girls live with their father, that state’s top education official. Rhee is now married to Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson.

She has previously described herself as a “public-school parent.” An aide repeated that phrase when The Times asked directly if Rhee’s children were in public or private school.

“I try to maintain some level of privacy for my kids by not divulging too much information,” Rhee said. “I say I’m a public-school parent when my kid goes to private school.

“I believe in parental choice,” she said. “I think I should be able to choose … and every parent should have that option too.”

As is the norm for so-called education reformers, Rhee advocates a form of testing for everyday children to which she would never subject her own child.

The West, Texas Disaster

[ 402 ] April 17, 2013 |

As you may have heard, a fertilizer plant has exploded in the town of West, Texas. This town, the Czech cultural capital of Texas and home of a mighty fine kolache at the Czech Stop, not to mention outfielder and stolen base maven Scott Podsednik, is a town well-known throughout the state. It’s also a place where, as of the most recent reports, 60-70 people have died, a nursing home has caved in, and every house within a 4 block radius was destroyed. Hopefully, it is not this bad. Yes, that’s right, a fertilizer plant was placed in a neighborhood. Or a neighborhood grew up around a fertilizer plant. In any case, there are already lessons we can draw from this developing story. First, non-union states often have terrible working conditions that can lead to horrible accidents. They might rarely be this bad, but they kill. Second, a state with notoriously bad zoning and where capitalists are effectively allowed to do whatever they want is going to be a state where terrible things happen.

I’m sure I’ll have more on what seems to be the worst workplace disaster in the United States in many years.

…I don’t actually recommend watching this, but this is footage of the explosion taken by some guy. Not embedding and I warn you. But this is what happened.

And Michelle Malkin sends her flying monkeys at me for talking about this event in terms of unions. Classy!

…In February, a school in West evacuated because of a fire at this fertilizer plant. PDF.

…As much as I want to keep following this story, at some point I need to sleep. Like now. As we speak, there are at least 2 confirmed dead and the town’s emergency management system director is saying 60-70 possible dead. By the time I wake up, I hope this was just a nightmare and didn’t occur.

…[SL] Welcome flying monkeys! I know the points here are hard to understand, but here’s a primer.

Williams on Winters

[ 16 ] April 17, 2013 |

Robin Williams can be annoying, but this is a wonderful reminiscence of the great Jonathan Winters.

A Message to Certain Administrators at a Certain Ocean State Institution

[ 116 ] April 17, 2013 |

Dear People Who Hold My Future in Your Hands,

When you distanced yourself from this lowly history professor last fall for daring to use a violent metaphor against moral monster and NRA head Wayne LaPierre, this awful individual, one Glenn Reynolds, is the person who did more than anyone to spearhead the attacks against me and is the person you empowered through your actions.

Obviously I’m the one involved in these debates who speaks outside of acceptable conversation……

Memorable Summer Meals, Colorado Edition

[ 70 ] April 16, 2013 |

I guess the answer to what goes best with beef is supposed to be Jello, but the real answer is whiteness.

I also so want some Western Roundup Salad, the name of the recipe at the bottom.

Maybe This Deliciousness Will Make You Feel Better

[ 61 ] April 15, 2013 |

A terrible day what with this horrifying Boston violence. I have nothing to offer at this point except for that. And an attempt at lightheartedness that might make people feel a bit better. There’s no better way to do that except through food. Especially Crevettes dans de la Gelatine. Which seems to translate as seafood and sliced cherry tomatoes inside Jello molds. Memorable summer meal indeed.

The Decline of Left-Wing Terrorism

[ 58 ] April 15, 2013 |

Despite the violence fetish of some leftists, the reality is that left-wing terrorism has declined to almost nothing in the United States since 1980. We do face severe domestic terrorist threats, but those threats exist almost exclusively on the right, including recent white supremacist violence against law enforcement. Yet in popular media, the face of scary left-wing terrorists, usually environmentalists, dominate our images of domestic terrorism. While the 1990s saw a rise in radical environmentalists who sometimes engaged in property violence, such as certain cells of the Earth Liberation Front, the idea that “ecoterrorism” means some idiots burning SUVs is absurd.* Yet a visit to the museum at the site of the Oklahoma City bombing is all about ecoterrorism and not about right-wing terrorism at all. It’s a crazy and highly politicized disconnect.

This is a good thing considering that any left-wing violence in the United States would be met with an overwhelming state force and fail miserably. It’d be nice to beat back this damaging mythology though.

* One key lesson from the ELF group based out of Eugene that burned a science building at the University of Washington. If your cell leader is a heroin addict, you might want to reconsider your actions.

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